I have sympathy, but no useful advice, for those without a job these days – particularly those who have graduated from prestigious institutions with fancy degrees, and are now desperate to land a job as a barrista.
Like many from my generation, I believed that you went to school until they couldn’t take it any more, and then you got a job, and then you retired, and then you died. The process was supposed to be as smooth and continuous as the Ford assembly line plant. But it was all a lie.
I ran out of school to go to in 1976. The job situation was miserable then, as it is now, but for different reasons. Now we suffer from job contraction and diminished demand, but back then we had excess supply. The massive baby boom generation was flooding the job market, which had recently expanded significantly to accommodate the revolutionary concept that women could work for money, and not just as teachers and nurses. A job, I discovered to my chagrin, was no longer my birthright.
I had gotten pretty good grades in school, but, frankly, I didn’t clean up all that well. I remember my first job interview after law school. The interviewing lawyer pressed himself into a corner of the room as though he had suddenly found himself in the company of a cobra. This can’t be good, I thought. Nor was I encouraged by his opening remark. “Well,” he said, “do you have any questions for me?”
The fact was that I aspired to a career in politics after graduation, and hoped to land a position in the office of Congressman John LaFalce (D.-NY). I was a Democrat at the time, and LaFalce represented my neighboring district. He was a good Congressman, and popular, having been reelected several times. I figured if he hired me I’d have enough job stability to figure out my next move.
I had done well in a Moot Court program, so the school rewarded a dozen other third-year law students and me with a special treat – tickets to the Erie County Bar Association’s annual dinner, to be held in the ballroom of the old Statler Hilton. And the special guest speaker was to be – Congressman John LaFalce!
Now, the thing you have to know about LaFalce is this: despite his many good qualities, he was not exactly Mr. Excitement. In fact, in a secret poll of Congressional aides taken the previous year, LaFalce had been voted the most boring member of Congress. This was an impressive showing, as there were 434 other members of the House of Representatives and one hundred Senators, many near death. LaFalce was apparently more boring than any one of them.
He would be talking about insurance.
It was of no moment to me. I sat there with my fellow lawyers in utero at table 8, right near the stage. We plowed through an unforgettable meal of – well, dammit, I can’t remember, but it was unforgettable, believe me – served to us at a table with a splendid paper tablecloth. And then, the piece de resistance: John LaFalce on insurance.
This was important to my job-hunting plan. I wanted to memorize some of the things the Congressman said at this presentation, and then, when he interviewed me, give them back to him in a slightly different form. He would think I was a genius.
Now, before I get to this next part please remember that we were a much different culture in 1976. Our beliefs about drinking and driving, appropriate jokes, and virtually everything concerning sex changed completely in the ensuing thirty-seven years. And, in that ancient culture, it was a sign of class and gravity to follow a good meal by smoking an excellent cigar. I’m not sure that the blueberry-flavored Tiparillos I favored fell in the same category, but I felt most excellently suave when I took mine out.
As LaFalce warmed to his subject, I unwrapped my Tiparillo, crumpled the cellophane, threw it into the ash tray in the middle of the table, and proceeded to light my little cigar. I lit it, waved my match casually in the air, and tossed it into the ash tray with the cellophane.
In a short while we had a merry little fire going. If no one had done anything, it would have burned itself out quickly. But geez! This was Congressman LaFalce. And he was talking about insurance. Another incipient lawyer got the same idea I did: blow on it. Which we did.
The burning cellophane floated into the air and hung there. If this were a Disney movie, it would have gently settled back down in the ash tray. However, as it was an episode of my life instead, it gently settled down on the paper tablecloth. And set it on fire.
Fire at table 8! Fortunately, the Statler Hilton establishment, perhaps anticipating such an event, had given us each glasses of ice water. Eight or so law students threw their water at the flame, and we had soon replaced the fire with a flood.
Had the Congressman had the agility of, say, Senator Al Franken (D.-Minn), I’m sure he could have drawn some parallel between his subject and the calamity he was observing. But that was not Congressman LaFalce’s style. He gave a nod in our direction, and continued his fascinating exploration into insurable interests.
It may surprise you to learn that I did not land a job in Congressman LaFalce’s office. My hunt for my first real job (not counting free delivery of laundry soap) took many more months, and ended up in a fashion almost as bizarre as this.
Some day I might tell you about it.